11 tips for food and wine pairing (with examples!) – UMAMU Estate

At UMAMU Estate we are all about Balance & Contentment. When I think of wine pairing, I think of the food and wine as two characters having a conversation, both joining in, with neither party dominating the other. And the characters can be wearing all kinds of clothes and colours that add to the mix and combo too!

Food & Wine pairing – UMAMU Estate style

Balance is the philosophy we harness in our wines – from grape growing so that the fruit is balanced at harvest, to winemaking where the oak and the fruit are in harmony. Then, when we’re tasting the wine, we like the wine to be balanced on the palate – in terms of texture, longevity and mouthfeel. When pairing wine with food, we like both to be in balance with neither overpowering the other so we have this beautiful harmony.

There are infinite factors at play when pairing food and wine. As a guide, we like to think of the texture and body of both food and wine to exist on a spectrum from light to light plus, and then from medium to medium plus

We have mapped this out above taking into general account: base meat/fish, cooking preparation, sauce/richness, spices and then recommended wines on the same spectrum. The effects of the growing season and oak also contribute to the attributes of a wine and are well worth mentioning. The whole map goes from light at the top to medium in the middle to medium plus at the base of the chart, where I have also tried to instil lightness via the colour and deepening of colour for understanding. Of course, we all have different palates and taste things differently – but therein lies the fun of it all! Check out the below tips for food and wine pairing to spark some fun conversations with your friends and family. 

Bon appétit and Santé. Cheers!

1. Fish or meat?

Think of the different foods that you have eaten – more specifically, think of the texture they have as you chewed them. 

Fish typically has a more delicate texture compared to meat, i.e. there is a general increase in body and texture from fish to meat. Some fish have more delicate flesh, such as whiting, which lends itself better with a light bodied wine like a Sauvignon Blanc. While a fleshier fish like monkfish has more texture and will pair with a light plus bodied wine like a Sauvignon Blanc Semillon while an oiler fish like mackerel has more body and richness and can pair with a medium wine like a Chardonnay or a Cabernet Merlot.  

Chicken or pork also have medium texture – rather than medium plus – and pair well with Chardonnay or a Cabernet Merlot. Beef or lamb have much more body and texture and thus pair well with a medium plus bodied wine such as a Shiraz or Cabernet Sauvignon.

Our UMAMU Estate Sauvignon Blanc with seared halibut and zucchini is a perfect example of light (delicate) food and wine pairing. The wine has solid good acidity which works well with how the fish is seared and and cuts through the oiliness of the fish.

UMAMU Estate sauvignon blanc wine pairing

2. Cooking method

How you prepare a dish makes a great difference to the weight, richness and body of the base ingredient (fish/meat). 

Light cooking methods, like steaming or poaching, pair best with lighter-bodied wines like a Sauvignon Blanc

Our UMAMU Estate Sauvignon Blanc Semillon with pan-fried dover sole is a perfect example of how a light plus-medium bodied cooking method lends itself to a more light plus-medium bodied wine.

wine pairing margaret river

Roast Turkey with trimmings of ham, bacon, chestnut stuffing, red cabbage, Brussel sprouts and roast spuds would be more medium bodied and would pair beautifully with a Cabernet Merlot or a lighter Cabernet Sauvignon, such as Ann's Cabernet Sauvignon.

3. Sauces/richness

Sauces add richness to a dish. A light sauce will pair with a lighter wine while a medium sauce such as a tomato-based one, which has more body, will pair well with a medium bodied wine like a Chardonnay. Creamy sauces have more texture and are heavier, so go well with a medium plus bodied wine like a Cabernet Sauvignon.

Our UMAMU Estate Chardonnay with bouillabaisse seafood stew is a good blend of medium well-seasoned fish stew with a medium bodied wine. 

wine pairing UMAMU Estate chardonnay

4. Spices

In Asia, I have seen a roast Turkey marinated tandoori style to give it a spicy Asian twist. This spice will pair well with our Shiraz which has a little touch of spice to it from the grape variety.

Our UMAMU Estate Cabernet Sauvignon with spiced red wine braised short ribs is a great blend of spices with a medium plus red wine.

5. Wine Acidity

Acidity of the wine within the same varietal/ blend varies and contributes to wine pairing ability.  More acid means more ability to work with more weighty food styles. So for example pan frying the dover sole added weight to the fish (and note the fish is solid enough to be pan fried, it didn't fall over with that method of cooking) and the acid component of the wine works with the oiliness and the SBS joins in with just the right horsepower to work together.  

6. Varietal/ blend of wine

Some grape varieties are lighter bodied than others. What I have done is to chart in general the varietal/ blend in the map above, starting from a light bodied wine such as a Sauvignon Blanc to a light plus Sauvignon Blanc Semillon or Semillon Sauvignon Blanc Blend to a medium bodied Chardonnay or Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Merlot to medium plus Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon. This helps the wine pairing process when considering accompanying foods and their textures.

7. Winemaking style – with or without oak

Oak gives a wine more texture and weight, and therefore the more time in oak the more a wine moves from light to medium bodied. We strive for the use of oak to be in balance with the fruit. So for any of our wines, see if they have had any oak treatment. If so, how long for?

For example, a Sauvignon Blanc that has had no oak treatment will be lighter bodied versus one that has been in oak barrels. Our Sauvignon Blanc has spent 10 months in French oak barrels.  For our Sauvignon Blanc Semillon we put about 10% of the blend (depending on the season) into oak barrels for a few weeks to give the wine more texture. 

Our UMAMU Estate Sauvignon Blanc with cheese platter is a great display of how texture (another form of weight) enables the wine to sit up and be on the same table as the cheese (which is a pretty rich) and the acidity of the wine, cuts through the richness of the cheese and wraps the palate together well.  Try it out!

UMAMU Estate sauvignon blanc wine pairing

8. Growing and ripening season 

In choosing your wine, one factor to bear in mind is the vintage and where the wine is produced. This adds another interesting dimension. All things being equal, cooler seasons will see a wine tighter and generally lighter in alcohol and body. Warmer seasons give the vines/ grapes the capacity to ripen more and build up more complex flavours, and hence body. 

Within any one region, there will be varying seasons. And similarly, there are cooler climate and warmer climate growing regions which impact the body of a wine. So, for example, the coolest season Margaret River has seen would be 2006 – the whites are very fresh from this vintage. The reds are also lighter and have lower alcohol than the following warmer season of 2007. By an aside, in looking for a bottle of Bordeaux red from 2010 and they were all 14 percent alcohol, so 2010 must have been a warm, dry season.

9. Age of wine

Time in the bottle mellows a wine and gives the wine time to balance up. That is a core reason why we release wines when we feel they are ready, i.e. in balance. And as the wine mellows, it technically becomes more gentle so for example you wouldn't go pairing a First Growth Bordeaux from 1982 e.g. Chateau Mouton from Pauillac France (a more gentle terroir) which I was treated to recently, which to me is the definition of delicate beauty without anything too overbearing as you would then loose the wine completely. 

And so here with our Margaret River Rose 2018 it is delicate elegance but the time in oak gives it weight and I put this on the spectrum, after Chardonnay of a similar vintage but if the Chardonnay is of an older vintage then the Chardonnay will carry much more weight than a younger Rose.

Our UMAMU Estate Cabernet Sauvignon with Lamb Shank Stew is a great example of how an aged and already medium-plus-bodied wine stands up firmly against a meaty stew cooking all night long! In the video I am tasting a vintage of ours from 2001, but our Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon from 2011 will do just the trick.

10. Explore…

The wonderful thing about food and wine pairing is there are so many possibilities, and therein lies the fun of the journey. Based on these tips, along with what you have tasted, you can trial and find (new) pairings. Just think back to the various meals you have enjoyed, was there a pairing you thought worked and one you thought 'yummy'?  One can always test the pairing in advance… I tend to think through the dish or wine and then find the match mentally then I test it out. So think of these tips and see how you go.

Also as you explore, you may come across certain pairings that bring out another flavour in the pairing, note these and share them with us.

11. For deserts

Loving the exploration. I discovered how well our Shiraz pairs with chocolate - I recall an event in Jakarta participating in a wine & food fair with our local agent. A neighbouring stand was exhibiting chocolate… the great thing about these fairs is you chit chat and try each others products. I got to sample various chocolates with our wines and viola, choc & UMAMU Shiraz goes together! This has all gone together in our amazing UMAMU Shiraz with rack of lamb with Shiraz & chocolate sauce.

Also try out our UMAMU Estate Cane Cut with raspberry ruby chocolate panacotta with hibiscus flower, sesame tuile and balsamic toffee.

Do you have a favourite pairing? We'd love to hear from you.  

When creating the name for our wine brand, one of the prongs was having an affinity with umami, the fifth flavour of food… Our goal is to produce wines that drink on their own but also pair well with food.